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Taliban Retreat From Kunduz, Threat To Second City Repelled

Members of the Afghan security forces stand guard at a check point on a roadside in Ghazni on October 13.
Members of the Afghan security forces stand guard at a check point on a roadside in Ghazni on October 13.

The Taliban say they are withdrawing from Kunduz, a strategic city in northern Afghanistan that fell to the militant Islamic extremists in September.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an email to media on October 13 that Taliban fighters are retreating from the town to avoid further civilian casualties.

An Afghan official said life in the city is returning to normal.

Hamdullah Danishi, the acting governor of Kunduz province, said shops and markets in the city have reopened and residents are venturing out of their homes. He says troops are continuing search and clear operations, suspecting that some insurgents remain in the city.

The Taliban stormed Kunduz on September 28 and held the city for three days before being driven back. The exact number of dead and wounded is unclear, but is believed to be in the hundreds.

Meanwhile, Afghan officials in Ghazni Province to the south of Kabul say a Taliban threat to their provincial capital has been repelled.

Fighting flared there on October 12 as Taliban insurgents threatened to storm Ghazni city, the provincial capital about 130 kilometers south of Kabul, two weeks after their brief capture of Kunduz city.

But although the attempt to seize Ghazni city was repelled by Afghan forces, it raised alarm about resurgent militants pushing to expand beyond their rural strongholds in the south of the country.

The violence, which prompted shops and schools in Ghazni to close, also follows an attempt by the militants to capture the capital of the northern province of Faryab.

Ghazni's deputy provincial governor, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, said about 2,000 Taliban fighters launched attacks on Ghazni from "several directions."

He said the Taliban "planned to attack and seize the capital," but Afghan security forces "were on the alert and repelled them."

The development comes after days of sporadic clashes. Officials said Afghan military reinforcements had arrived from neighboring provinces to secure the city.

"The Taliban's effort to capture the city has failed," Assadullah Shujahi Ghazni, the deputy provincial police chief, told AFP. "The Taliban will soon realize that Ghazni is no Kunduz."

The fall of Kunduz was a stinging blow to Western-trained Afghan forces, who have largely been fighting on their own since the end of NATO's combat mission in December.

It raised the prospect of a domino effect of big cities falling into the hands of the Taliban for the first time in 14 years.

Afghan forces claim to have wrested back control of Kunduz, but sporadic firefights continue with pockets of insurgents as soldiers, backed by NATO special forces, conduct door-to-door clearance operations.

As fighting spreads in neighboring provinces such as Badakhshan and Takhar, concerns are mounting that the seizure of Kunduz was merely the opening gambit in a new, bolder strategy to tighten the insurgency's grip across northern Afghanistan.

The militants last week attempted to overrun Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province, but were pushed back by Afghan forces with the aid of pro-government militias.

The emboldened insurgents have stepped up attacks around Afghanistan since they launched their annual summer offensive in late April.

A Taliban suicide bomber targeted a British military convoy in Kabul on October 11 in a rush-hour attack that wounded at least three civilians, including a child.

NATO forces are under fire after a U.S. air strike on October 3 pummelled a hospital in Kunduz run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing at least 12 staff and 10 patients.

The medical charity shut down the trauma center, branding the incident a "war crime" and demanding an international investigation into the incident.

The Pentagon announced on October 10 that it would make compensation payments for those killed or injured in the strike, while suggesting that U.S. forces in Afghanistan could also pay for repairs to the hospital.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters